Teal Ribbon, Anyone?

Teal is much more than a beautiful color.  It’s symbolic of the beauty of overcoming sexual violence.  Sexual Assault Awareness and Prevention Month is observed during the month of April.  Sexual assault or sexual violence is any unwanted sexual contact that includes sexual harassment, molestation, incest, rape, and date rape.  Statistics indicate that nearly one in five women and one in 71 men have experienced rape or attempted rape in their lifetimes (Black et al., 2011).  Rates of non-rape sexual victimization are much higher–one in two women and one in five men. Twenty-one percent of Black women are impacted by rape during their lifetimes, and some estimate that this number is an underestimate.  Sadly, many Black women are first exposed to sexual violence as children.  Community studies reveal that 34-65% of Black women are survivors of childhood sexual abuse (West & Johnson, 2013).  Our bodies are misused for the sexual pleasure of someone else, often a family member or “friend of the family.”  Such abuse can range from one isolated episode to a recurring pattern that can last for years, even into adulthood.  Indeed, our children and youth are at increased risk for sexual violence.  Commercial sexual exploitation of children (CSEC), closely related to sex trafficking, is defined as “crimes of a sexual nature committed against juvenile victims for financial or other economic reasons (Greenbaum & James, 2015).

What happens to the survivors of sexual violence? Some of us have suffered in silence, sworn to secrecy by our perpetrator.  Others of us have dared to tell another, and perhaps have gained support, protection, and relief from our abuse. Unfortunately, when some divulge this secret, we have been accused of lying, “asking for it,” and have even been rejected, sometimes by our own mothers or other close family members.  A few others have formally filed charges against the perpetrators, and have experienced or are waiting for justice to be served.  This legal path, however, is fraught with challenges of going public and being subject to judgment and commentary, having to testify about a very painful episode, and dealing with the possibility that the perpetrator will not be found guilty.

No matter where we are in this process of disclosure, the effects of sexual assault on the mind are indelible.  Sexual assault can leave us feeling dirty, worthless, ruined, and unlovable.  It affects our daily functioning, our self-perception, and our motivation to pursue the purpose that God has given our lives.  Particularly when undisclosed, sexual assault can have a devastating effect on our physical health, including unplanned pregnancy, sexually transmitted infections (STIs), and gynecological disorders (Campbell, 2002).  In terms of mental health, sexual assault is most closely related to chronic depression and posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD).  Several research studies also indicate that childhood trauma is associated with chronic illness in adulthood (Mock & Arai, 2010).  Additionally, sexual assault can contribute to our sense of shame regarding our bodies and hinder our physical, emotional, and sexual intimacy, even in a loving relationship.

So where is the hope for sexual violence survivors?  National to local resource centers are available, including the National Sexual Violence Resource Center (www.nsvrc.org), the Sexual Assault Resource Center (www.sarcbv.org), the Rape, Abuse, & Incest National Network (www.rainn.org), and the National Alliance to End Sexual Violence (http://endsexualviolence.org).  These websites feature educational materials, policy documents, and guidance for advocates.  Also, survivors can call the National Sexual Assault Telephone Hotline (800.656.HOPE) to speak to a crisis counselor.  If you’re located in Durham, NC, contact the Durham Crisis Response Center at http://www.durhamcrisisresponse.org, or by calling the crisis line at 919-403-6562. The Take Back the Night Durham observance will kick off at Motorco on Tuesday, March 25 at 6 pm. Finally, therapy or counseling can be a helpful support to process the trauma that often accompanies sexual violence.  Contact The Armstrong Center for Hope at 919-418-1718, or https://armstrongcfh.com, or locate other trauma-trained clinicians at https://therapists.psychologytoday.com.

Pass this information along to someone who could benefit from these resources.  Most importantly, find a teal ribbon to wear in honor of those who are overcoming the experience of sexual violence.

 

À votre santé (“To your health”),

 

Dr. T

Tonya Armstrong

 

References

Black, M. C., Basile, K. C., Breiding, M. J., Smith, S. G., Walters, M. L., Merrick, M. T., Chen, J., & Stevens, M. R. (2011). National Intimate Partner and Sexual Violence Survey: 2010 summary report. Retrieved from the National Center for Injury Prevention and Control, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention: http://www.cdc.gov/violenceprevention/pdf/nisvs_report2010-a.pdf.

Campbell, J. C. (2002).  Health consequences of intimate partner violence.  The Lancet, 359(9314), 1331-1336.

Greenbaum, J., & Crawford-Jakubiak, J. E. (2015).  Child sex trafficking and commercial sexual exploitation: Health care needs of victims.  American Academy of Pediatrics, 135(3), 1-9.

Mock, S. E., & Arai, S. M. (2010).  Childhood trauma and chronic illness in adulthood: Mental health and socioeconomic status as explanatory factors and buffers.  Frontiers in Psychology, 1(246), 1-6.

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